Self Publishing, Work-Life Balance, Working Motherhood

I Know What You Really Want For Mother’s Day

I have an issue with Mother’s Day.

Kate Hilton, Mothers Day, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, Book Club, Book Clubs
Has there ever been a holiday better designed to elicit seething resentment than this one?  It is a day that promises a warm bath of gratitude for your maternal contributions to the family, but more often delivers teacher-assigned crayon-and-construction paper cards, along with a gift certificate obtained by your frazzled husband after running out to the nearest store on foot while leaving you with the kids (on Mother’s Day).

And then there are the other mothers: your mother, your spouse’s mother, grandmothers and various hangers-on who believe, perhaps fairly, that it’s their turn to have a decent Mother’s Day celebration, now that there is a grown women in their lives capable of delivering one.  That’s you, by the way.

In fact, I’ve concluded that the only person who can give you what you really want for Mother’s Day is you.  And it’s not a spa day, or chocolate, or flowers, although they each have their place in a woman’s life.

I think what you really want for Mother’s Day is to know that there is still an essential ‘you’ that exists outside the many roles that you occupy – mother, wife, daughter, friend, boss, employee, volunteer – and to know, also, that your particular, unique, imperfect you is someone worth celebrating.

Exactly a year ago this week, I gave myself an extraordinary gift for Mother’s Day.  I self-published the novel I had been writing secretly for four years.  That novel, The Hole in the Middle, explores the inner life of an overburdened and dissatisfied working mother who feels that she is failing on all fronts.  And even though it wasn’t, and isn’t, autobiographical, it took a staggering amount of courage to put it out into the world, to claim a new identity for myself as a writer, and to start talking about the complex feelings that many, if not most, women have about motherhood and marriage.

How many of us truly understood at the beginning that a wedding is the opening chapter of a story, not the conclusion, and that the narrative arc of a marriage has joy, yes, but also rage and sorrow and disappointment and misunderstanding – even in the happiest of unions?   How many of us knew that we would love our children so much that it would terrify us, but that we would also resent the erosion of our independent personhood, and wonder why our husbands didn’t feel similarly eroded?  Or how much more often we would dwell on our failures than on our successes as wives and mothers – and how angry it would make us that our spouses weren’t similarly afflicted with self-doubt?

Few of us, I would bet.  Which is, perhaps, why we lie so much to each other and to ourselves about how satisfied we are with our Facebook-picture-perfect lives.

The gift I gave myself a year ago was to step beyond the safe territory of roles and give my essential self some room of her own.  It’s been scary, often, because change is hard even when necessary and welcome.  But mostly, it’s been liberating.

It’s been liberating to hear women from across the country tell me that my work makes them feel less alone.  It’s been liberating to know, not just believe, that I have a creative talent in me that needs expression.  It’s been liberating to show my kids by example what it means to work hard for a dream – and make it happen.  And it’s been liberating to celebrate my own particular, unique, imperfect me.

This year, give yourself a Mother’s Day gift that matters.  Step outside the roles that you perform so very, very well, and give yourself the gift of self-knowledge, of self-expression, and of self-worth.  No one else can give it to you, and you deserve it.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Work-Life Balance, Working Motherhood

Mom Blog: The ’80s Edition

Kate Hilton, Madonna, 80s, The Hole in the Middle, Book ClubI was already annoyed when I pulled into the driveway in the Plymouth Voyager, having returned empty-handed from the video store.  Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., and all the copies of Risky Business and The Bounty were already gone, leaving me with the choice of renting Meatballs II or The Gods Must Be Crazy for the third time. So much for my plan of vegging out on the couch with Brian and my two fave fantasy husbands, Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise.

When I got inside, I found Amy and Stephanie watching Y & R.  I switched the channel to Muppet Babies and told them to clean up their toys or I’d throw them in the garbage.  I went into the kitchen and discovered that Michelle hadn’t cut up the vegetables for the stir-fry after walking the other girls home from school. I felt my temperature rising, so I mixed myself some Crystal Light and vowed to be more like Clair Huxtable.

I found Michelle lying on her bed, talking on the phone.  I nearly tripped over the cord as I walked over, removed the receiver from her ear and hung it up.  She was furious.

“What is your damage?!!” she yelled.

“Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady,” I said.  “My house, my rules.  You don’t like them, you can find somewhere else to live.”

“As if,” she said.  “If I weren’t around, you’d have to quit aerobics and pick up Amy and Stephanie yourself.”

I reflected for a moment on my neighbor Linda’s advice to think of myself as a friend to my children, but decided instead to take away Michelle’s phone privileges.  I left her sulking in her room, playing Like A Virgin over and over again on her ghetto blaster.

I admit that I may have been a little edgy already, on account of being on the Scarsdale Diet (again).  All that grapefruit was obviously getting on my nerves.  So I did Jane Fonda’s 20-minute workout in the rec room to calm down, and then I went to the bedroom to fix myself up.

I threw my legwarmers, my purple spandex leggings and my oversize T onto the Laura Ashley bedspread, and exchanged them for some black stirrup pants, a neon pink blazer with great shoulder pads and some chunky clip-on earrings.  Then I took out my banana clip, shook out my perm and applied some bright pink lipstick.  Linda had her colors done and she says that I shouldn’t wear pink because I’m an Autumn, but who wants to wear brown and goldenrod for the rest of her life?

I went down to the kitchen and got out the wok.  I love all of the international flavors you can cook with now!  Just dice up some chicken, throw in some red peppers and bean sprouts, and pour half a bottle of soy sauce over everything, and you have real Chinese cuisine.  Or is it Japanese?  I can never remember.

While I cooked, I poured myself a glass of California Chardonnay, added some ice cubes, and thought about Michelle.  What wouldn’t I give to go back to the days when our biggest parenting problem was finding a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas! She’s living in the best time ever in history, with nothing but progress as far as the eye can see, but does she appreciate it?  No: it’s all acid rain and apartheid and black eyeliner.  I remember fighting with my brothers over who would get the maraschino cherry in the fruit cocktail, and now?  Red peppers from South America in the middle of winter.  Totally amazing.

I blame Madonna.  If I had five minutes alone with her, I’d tell her what kind of example I think she’s setting for young girls. Like a virgin, my A-S-S, pardon my French.  Thank goodness her 15 minutes of fame are just about up.


Self Publishing

The Accidental Social Media Guru

Kate Hilton, Social Media Guru, Self-Publishing, Self Publishing, Best Selling Author, The Hole in the MiddleI first discovered that I was a social media guru, at least in the world of fiction writers (an admittedly low bar), when CBC called to interview me about it.  I was incredibly flattered, but knew it was only a matter of time before I was revealed as a shameless imposter. My long-suffering spouse, who has been my on-call computer technician for the past sixteen years is only too happy to confirm: I’m technologically incompetent.

Last May, however, I self-published my first novel, The Hole in the Middle, as an e-book.  I promoted it through a range of social media channels, and suddenly I had 13,000 downloads, an agent, a book deal with HarperCollins, and a reputation as a social media expert.

But here’s the honest truth: I opened accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and several other sites less than a year ago so that I could build an audience for my book.  I’d resisted them for years.  They seemed like vehicles for narcissism at best (‘Look, everyone!  I’m having a coffee at Starbucks!’) and for escalating insecurity at worst (‘I thought my last tweet was hilarious.  Why hasn’t anyone followed me?  Why?).  But, having decided to launch The Hole in the Middle for Mother’s Day, I was on a tight timeline.  I needed to get friended, asap.

The most useful advice came from my friend Leah Eichler, who advised me that social technologies generate true connections between people when they mimic familiar social behaviors.  Twitter, she said, was like passing notes in class, while LinkedIn was like handing out your business card at a professional dinner.

This made sense to me.  On Facebook, for example, the best posts seemed like the sort of news you’d call your sister or close girlfriend about (‘Did you see that Jimmy Fallon clip?’ or ‘The recipe you gave me for spicy brisket was amazing!’ or ‘The kids decided to cut their own hair!’); while the worst ones reminded me of the overwrought Christmas letters that seem to have fallen out of vogue with the dawn of Facebook, where you can now post updates on your family’s perfection multiple times a day instead of only once a year.

Happily, observing and recreating social behavior is something that I, and every other writer that ever put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), can do.  I tried to ignore the medium and focus on the message.  I passed notes on Twitter (‘I don’t think your cat likes you as much as you think it does’) and I phoned my girlfriends on Facebook (‘Oh my god!  I just saw my book in a bookstore!).  And the more I did it, the easier it got.

No one is more surprised than I am that all of these social communications, over the course of a year, have produced genuine feelings of connection.  I’ve rediscovered friends that I’d lost touch with over the years.  I’ve met new people through a shared interest in books and writing.  I followed one friend’s cancer diagnosis and treatment; cheered for others in real time as they competed in marathons, charity bike races and Tough Mudders; and invited neighbors to shelter at my house during the Toronto ice storm – all on social media.

And here is what I learned from my year-long immersion course (which, now that you know I’m an imposter, you can take or leave): the true magic of social media is not that it mimics real-life behavior, but that it produces social ties in the real – not merely the online – world.  My foray into social media has broadened my circle of friends and colleagues and made my life richer and more interesting.

But, social media expert or no, I never use emoticons.  You have to #drawtheline somewhere.

Self Publishing, The Writing Life

Life Begins at 40

03-06-14_KateHilton19-184I remember my dad’s 40th birthday. I had a majestic Lady Di haircut and a red dress made of the finest polyester, with puffed sleeves and a neck ruffle.  My sisters and I sat on the edge of the room in our finery and watched my parents’ friends joke with each other about how old they were.  We agreed.  They were, like, totally old.

My dad got a cool new car that year – a red convertible – and we drove to school with great excitement for a few months until it became clear that the plastic windows in the convertible roof had poor visibility and weak insulation, and that the backseat was too small for three girls keen on personal space. The convertible was kicked to the curb as soon as the lease was up, and replaced with some practical vehicle, suitable for family life and Canadian winter.  My dad still describes the red convertible as the worst car he ever had.  How’s that for a metaphor?

The expression ‘Life begins at 40’ was in heavy circulation among baby boomers back then, the first sign that my parents’ generation had no intention of following the prescribed script for graceful ageing.  As a quietly judgmental tween, this mantra seemed to me an absurd but benign delusion, a mechanism for coping with the inevitable: hopeless old age (i.e. grandparenthood) and oblivion.  As a 38-year old woman, though, with an endless list of responsibilities and a perennial case of exhaustion, I took a different view.

For many people, at least in our particular corner of the Western world, a 40th birthday is a serious milestone, one that offers the possibility of reinvention. If we are very lucky, it is a moment when we have satisfied more than the basic requirements of survival; we are mated, housed, healthy, employed and sleeping through the night.  For the A-types, the self-improvers and the chronic malcontents among us, it’s the perfect time to ask:  What’s next?

I’d always wanted to be a fiction writer.  But I had some serious catching up to do.  I hadn’t written anything creative since high school.  No short stories, no poems, nothing.  A lawyer by training, as well as an oldest daughter by birth order, I took a cautious and incremental approach to personal transformation.  I wrote for three hours a week, on Sunday afternoons, about a subject that was familiar.  (The Hole in the Middle is a comic novel about a woman turning 40, with an endless list of responsibilities and a perennial case of exhaustion.  It is, of course, 100% fictional.)

As I write this, I realize that it’s been exactly five years since I took my first tentative steps as a writer by jotting down some ideas in a notebook.  This January, I’m getting regular missives from readers, who send me photos of my book in stores across the country and tell me that The Hole in the Middle was the highlight of their holiday reading.

Life may not begin at 40, but it’s an excellent time to consider a second (or third, or fourth) act.  Is there something you’ve always wanted to do?  Something you were scared to try, because you’d be devastated if you failed?  Take a deep breath and go for it.  Trust me: it’s way more satisfying than buying a convertible.

Work-Life Balance, Working Motherhood

The Balance Myth

Kate Hilton, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, Work-Life Balance, Book Club, Book ClubsIs there a more over-used and empty phrase in modern life than work-life balance?  I can’t think of one.  Perhaps that’s because I am asked several times a week how I achieve it.  I’m trying to find a happy medium between giggling uncontrollably and giving an answer that sounds creepily like Tilda Swinton’s wound-tighter-than-a-drum character in Michael Clayton (“Who needs balance? When you’re really enjoying what it is you do, there’s your balance.”).

When you are trying to do a lot of things well, simultaneously, you are going to be living with organized chaos, and hoping that the organization outweighs the chaos on any given day.  I’m comfortable with the pace of my life because I’m not what you’d call a relaxed person (and I’d be so delighted if people would stop telling me to become so).  I don’t consider ‘busy’ a four-letter word, other than in the literal sense.  It gives me pleasure, and a sense of purpose, to operate at full capacity.  That’s my choice.

Some days I feel that I’ve succeeded in my work.  Some days I feel that I’ve succeeded as a parent, or a spouse, or a friend, or a daughter.  But I rarely feel as though I’ve succeeded on all fronts in the same 24-hour period.  Do I have work-life balance?  Have I achieved a guilt-free equilibrium between all of the many roles that I play in my life?  What do you think?  (If you require additional information to answer this question, please refer to my novel, The Hole in the Middle.)

When my friend Luisa was pregnant with twins, her prenatal instructor encouraged her to adopt a ‘good enough’ parenting philosophy.  Isn’t that refreshingly old-fashioned?

Back in the day, so-called career women could feed their children Hamburger Helper and Kraft Dinner and never show their faces in the schoolyard, and it was considered acceptable.  Stay-at-home mothers may have felt extravagantly sorry for the families of that generation of working women, but there was no expectation that the working moms would run the parent council at school, fit into skinny jeans or bake gluten-free cupcakes for the class on birthdays in addition to working full-time.

We’d all be better off if we could ditch the idea that there’s a mythical state of balance out there, and that others have succeeded in achieving it.   They haven’t.  We are all trying to find the right combination of rest and action, of family and work, of ambition and acceptance, and of engagement with and retreat from the world.  Some days we’ll get the formula right and feel like superwomen and other days we’ll get it wrong and feel like dismal failures.

The only wisdom I can offer is this: if you aren’t having any fun, your expectations of yourself are probably too high. Or, as Lil Parker says in The Hole in the Middle: “No one is going to hand you a medal at the end of all of this because you ran faster and harder than everyone else.  The point is to enjoy it.”  So forget about work-life balance, and try instead for joy in the midst of chaos.  It sounds like more fun, doesn’t it?  And even better, it’s actually achievable.


Thinking Pink

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Think pink, right?

Kate Hilton, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, The Scar Project, Book Club, Breast CancerI have to tell you, when I think of breast cancer, I don’t think pink.  To me, breast cancer is the black dark of my worst imaginings at 2:00 a.m.  It’s the moment you realize that breast cancer could take you away from the children who desperately need you.  It’s the yawning dread that visits you every time you hear about another friend of a friend who’s sick.  There’s nothing pink about that.

That’s why I love the SCAR project.  This spectacular photo exhibit is raw and real, and shows the harsh reality of breast cancer and the scars it leaves behind.  It is also hopeful, inspiring and extraordinarily beautiful:

I’m thrilled to help Rethink Breast Cancer bring the SCAR Project to Toronto this spring.  This week, I held a private screening of Baring It All, a documentary about the making of the SCAR project.  Twenty wonderful women gathered.  We laughed and wept.  We remembered fallen friends and made new ones.  We raised $5,000.  It was an amazing night.

Join me in supporting this incredible project.  Visit the SCAR Project website and learn more.   If the images move you, and I know they will, consider making a donation at  It feels way better than wearing a pink ribbon.


UPDATE: Recently, I was contacted by Sondria Brown, who told me about a wonderful grassroots project in St. John’s, Newfoundland that was inspired by the SCAR Project.  Here’s the CBC clip that shows some of the images.

Family Dinner

Forget Your Perfect Offering: Family Pizza Night

Kate Hilton, The Hole in the Middle, Best Selling Author, Book Club, Family NightI’ve been thinking lately about an old Leonard Cohen poem that warns of the diminishing returns of perfectionism: Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

I repeat this phrase over and over to myself as a kind of mantra, which allows me to celebrate family dinner as a journey rather than a destination, a process rather than a result.  This is a survival mechanism, since perfect victories have been few and far between on this road so far.

I’ll be honest: last week was a gong show.  I got the flu, which created a domino effect of no groceries in the house and weakened wills all around.  You know what?  I don’t really want to talk about it.  Nothing good happened.

This week though, we started strong with homemade pizza.  The boys got a kick out of stretching the dough, which was the first time I’d managed to get them involved in dinner preparation, which every book on family dinner insists is key to the overall success of the project.  Here’s the best thing about making pizza:  You can make more than one!  Some people can eat pepperoni pizza, while others may choose to have wheat crust with leeks, field mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and truffle oil (to pick a few ingredients at random).

The crust was too thick, and a little soggy, and the accompanying salad was mostly ignored.  But our youngest son, and most hostile food critic, declared: “We should do this more often.”  We had Songza on in the background – a glorious ‘80s and ‘90s ‘guilty pleasures’ mix – and the kids popped out of their seats every few minutes to bust out some dance moves.  All I can say is that you really haven’t appreciated the pure brilliance of ‘Insane in the Membrane’ until you’ve seen a 6-year old dance to it.

We’ll deal with table manners next year.  That’s how the light gets in.

Family Dinner

Rib Night and Other Disappointments

Kate Hilton, best macaroni and cheese recipeFear not, gentle readers.  I haven’t given up on family dinner, at least not yet.  The journey continues.  This week, however, my blogging energies were consumed by the start of before- and after-school activities, my husband’s eye surgery and a canine houseguest who used my entire house as a toilet.  Not cool.

I started strong, with back-to-back efforts: Rib Night, and the long-awaited Mac & Cheese Night.

My husband was so excited about Rib Night that he left work early to smoke the ribs on the Green Egg.  The results were incredible.  I have to say, if you have a passion for barbecue and some discretionary income burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to consider a Green Egg.  It really is worth the effort.   Three out of four members of my family agree.  The other one wept copiously, ate three slices of cucumber and retired to his room early.

Having worked myself (and my entire family) up for mac & cheese, I was invested in its success.  I decided to buy a little insurance by adding bacon.  I even purchased really thick, expensive bacon from the butcher, and used an amazing recipe from the Kitchen Treaty website: http://www.


  • 8 oz. (1/2 pound or about 1¾ cups) macaroni or other medium tubular pasta (like penne or conchiglie)*
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 2½ cups 2% milk
  • 3 cups grated medium cheddar cheese*


  1. Boil the pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, and return to the pan you boiled it in. Set aside. (Mix in a little butter to keep the noodles from sticking if it’s going to be awhile before you make the sauce)
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Over medium heat, melt the butter.
  4. Add the flour, salt, dry mustard, pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon smoked paprika. Stir constantly over medium heat for about three minutes.
  5. Stir in the milk.
  6. Keeping on medium heat, whisk constantly for about 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens.
  7. Remove from heat, and stir in 2 cups of the cheese, stirring until melted.
  8. Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles and toss gently until all noodles are covered.
  9. Add half the noodles to a two quart casserole dish.
  10. Sprinkle on half the cheese.
  11. Add the rest of the noodles.
  12. Sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, and dust lightly with the smoked paprika.
  13. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until it starts getting a slightly dry and a tiny bit brown on top. Serve, topping individual servings with cooked, chopped bacon if desired.

My husband and I both agree that this is a fantastic mac & cheese recipe.  It’s simple, hearty and not at all dry.  The smoked paprika adds just the right amount of interest.  Our children managed two whole mouthfuls (each), before declaring it ‘slimy’.  They also agreed that thick bacon is even better than everyday bacon. (Incidentally, did you know that there is a website called ‘Bacon Today: Daily News on the World of Sweet, Sweet Bacon’? Check it out at  The internet is one crazy place.)

We finished the week with pork tenderloin.  Or, I should say, I finished the week with pork tenderloin.  It was a very hot day, and after soccer practice in the blazing sun, the slightly more adventurous of my eaters was a basket case.  It was the one thing too many, for all concerned.  Subs were purchased and joyously consumed.  And then I had a quiet dinner by myself.  Paired with stir-fried vegetables, couscous and a crisp glass of white, the tenderloin was delicious.

Family Dinner

Mac & Cheese, Interrupted

Kate Hilton, Corn on the Cobb, The Hole in the MiddleHere are some facts about mac & cheese that I found in preparation for today’s post:

  1. Kids (not mine) eat an average of 10 lbs of mac & cheese annually.
  2. Mac & cheese is consistently on the list of top ten favourite foods for kids (again, not mine).
  3. The recommended wine to serve with mac & cheese is Burgundy (good to know).

When I walked in the door, however, I was met with howls of despair.  Son #1, attempting some kind of mac & cheese inoculation, had tried a small amount of the food in question at lunch, and learned that it was not merely theoretically disgusting, but disgusting in fact.  Not only that, but he’d had the kind of bad day that only steak could fix.

I would have disbelieved him, except that he had a spot of violently orange powdered cheese on his gym shirt.  And by the time he had finished berating me, I was ready to pass the responsibility for dinner over to my husband.  I called and told him to pick up steaks.

And so it came to pass that we ate individually tailored combinations of steak, asparagus, radicchio (OK, I’m the only one who ate the radicchio) and corn.  Everyone ate the corn.  We talked about the relative merits of tuba and trombone, soccer try-outs and butt chocolate.

And the sun went down on another day.

P.S.  Butt chocolate? Don’t use that expression in French class.  Your teacher won’t like it.

Family Dinner

Family Dinner Part Two: A Shaky Start

Kate Hilton, Keep Calm, Best Selling AuthorI’m drinking a glass a wine as I write this, having just yelled: “Do I need to come in there?”  This should give you a sense of how well family dinner went today.

Tonight was turkey and corn night.  Smoked turkey, to be precise.  I have a lot of it in my freezer at the moment, because my husband and I had a miscommunication over the weekend and we each bought a 20-pound bird for the Labour Day Green Egg turkey-smoking project (we’re Canadian).  In order to work through the great turkey surplus of 2013, I have postponed mac and cheese night.

Incidentally, here is an incredible method for cooking corn that I just learned over the weekend.  It’s a total game-changer.  Put full ears of corn in the microwave on high heat, four minutes per ear of corn (I haven’t tried more than two at a time).  When the time is up, use a sharp knife to cut the thick end off.  Grasp the top of the ear firmly (it will be very hot, so use an oven mitt, or paper towel), and squeeze.  The perfectly cooked cob should slide right out, leaving you holding the husk and silk.  Amazing.  I’ll never boil corn again.

And yes, I digress.  That’s on purpose.  Here’s what happened:  Everyone ate the corn.  One child ate the turkey.  The other steadfastly refused to touch it, and wept until a hot dog was proffered.

Let’s call it a draw.  Onward.